NEW ORLEANS — Police suspect a driver was impaired when he killed two people and injured seven others, most of them riding bikes, on a busy New Orleans thoroughfare as large crowds gathered in the city for Mardi Gras.
Police spokesman Andy Cunningham said in statement Sunday morning that authorities are waiting for the results of a blood alcohol test, but they believe the suspect was impaired at the time of the crash Saturday evening.
He identified the suspect who was arrested at the scene as 32-year-old Tashonty Toney and said he was the son of a New Orleans police officer.
Cunningham says that discovery will not change the department’s investigation which he said will be “open and transparent.”
Saturday was Toney’s birthday, the news release said.
Toney faces two counts of vehicular homicide, seven counts of vehicular negligent injury, hit and run, and reckless operation, the release said.
The crash happened along a multiple-block stretch of Esplanade Avenue, a leafy street that connects the city’s biggest park with the French Quarter. The scene was close to the route of the Endymion parade, one of New Orleans’ largest Mardi Gras parades, that was held Saturday.
New Orleans Police Chief Shaun Ferguson told a news conference late Saturday that despite the crash’s proximity to the parade route, “we do not believe at this point in time that this has anything to do with the Endymion parade.”
Police said most of the victims were bicyclists, and photographs of the scene showed mangled bikes along the side of the street.
Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson told local media that bystanders in the area were the ones who stopped the driver.
“We were able to apprehend the subject so quickly because citizens stopped this individual, because they thought they were helping someone who had just been involved in a one-car accident,” Ferguson said.
One witness, cyclist Frank Rourk, told The New Orleans Advocate that he saw a driver of a dark sports car spin out on the median. The driver ran to a nearby corner and laid down on the sidewalk where he lost consciousness.
Rourk and two other people were able to wake the driver, and Rourk, who initially didn’t realize anyone was hit, told the driver: “I’m pretty sure you’re the guy who wrecked the car. You better go back there.” The driver then asked whether he had killed anyone.
EMS spokesman Jonathan Fourcade said a man and a woman — both about 30 years old — were killed.
EMS Director Emily Nichols told WVUE-TV that three of the five people brought to the hospital were in critical condition.
One onlooker, Dane Barrymore, told The New Orleans Advocate that he was smoking a cigarette outside a market when he saw a dark sports car speeding down the street. The driver swerved into the bike lane to try to go around a vehicle.
“It just happened there were people there – bicyclists,” Barrymore said. Barrymore said he saw two women and one man get struck. He said he went to help but it quickly became apparent that one of the women and the man didn’t survive.